Paruyr Hayrikian, a presidential candidate wounded in an apparent assassination attempt, petitioned Armenia’s Constitutional Court to postpone the upcoming election on Sunday only to withdraw the demand the following day.
Hayrikian’s final decision to let the presidential vote go ahead as planned on February 18 was the latest in a series of contradictory moves that baffled the Armenian political class and media.
Hayrikian appealed to the Constitutional Court two days after welcoming the arrest of two men charged with the January 31 shooting and hinting that he will not seek a two-week postponement of the ballot. Speaking to journalists outside the court building in Yerevan on Sunday, he argued that he has not been able to campaign for the past ten days because of having not yet fully recovered from a gunshot wound.
Under the Armenian constitution, a presidential election has to be postponed by at least two weeks if one of the candidates is faced with “insurmountable obstacles” to their campaign. Hayrikian said on February 5 that he will not invoke this clause. But he said afterwards that that decision was not final.
A lawyer for Hayrikian withdrew the appeal on Monday less than one hour before the Constitutional Court was due to start considering it.
“I have made a final decision,” Hayrikian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We are not changing election day. My premise remains the one which I had right at the beginning: we must not allow any scum to affect our democratic processes.”
“Even appealing to the Constitutional Court was very difficult for me because I declared right at the beginning that launching that [postponement] process is tantamount to aiding terrorists,” he claimed. “But later on I had to listen to opinions, take into account the fact that my rights are violated, that I am not campaigning on equal terms. Ultimately I found all that secondary.”
The court action came shortly after President Serzh Sarkisian, who is thought to be against an election delay, again visited Hayrikian in a Yerevan hospital on Sunday. The candidate, who was a prominent dissident during Soviet times, insisted that they did not discuss any political issues. “He came to inquire about my health,” he said.
Hayrikian expressed readiness to withdraw his appeal even before personally delivering it to Armenia’s highest court. He said on Saturday that he will not object to the election being held on time if Sarkisian’s main election challengers agree on a single candidate remaining in the race.
One of those challengers, former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratian, rejected the offer on Monday morning, before the announcement of Hayrikian’s final decision. Bagratian accused Hayrikian of cutting a secret deal with the Armenian authorities aimed at facilitating Sarkisian’s reelection.
“If he is honest, he himself should withdraw his candidacy in favor of the future joint [opposition] candidate,” Bagratian told a news conference.
Meanwhile, it remained unclear who might have been behind the shooting attack on Hayrikian. According to Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS), the two arrested suspects have confessed to the crime. But the NSS has yet to explain whether it believes they acted alone or on others’ orders.